Text by Jenny Bradley with Stephen Exel
Photographs by Werner Straube
For a young girl who wasn't all that fond of chocolate cake, Katrina Markoff put a lot of miles on her Easy-Bake Oven. At age 7, the cofounder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat was already honing her entrepreneurial skills at garage sales--industriously churning out her cakes as guests grew hungry rummaging through racks of clothes and neglected Barbie dolls.
"Surprisingly, I really wasn't that into chocolate when I was a child," says Katrina. "But I'd decorate cakes from my Easy-Bake Oven and sell them at our garage sales. I'd run the food side, and my sister, Natalie, would run the register. It was our little family business."
These days the equipment may have improved, but Katrina is still diligently churning out chocolate confections.
After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Katrina hightailed it to Paris to attend Le Cordon Bleu. It was there, while biting into a truffle beignet at L'Ambroisie, that she finally discovered the allure of chocolate. "I bit down on this crunchy fried-dough heaven. Inside was this amazing molten chocolate. That was the moment I fell in love with chocolate," recalls Katrina.
The rest, as they say, is history. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu and traveling the world for nine months, Katrina settled in Chicago and started Vosges Haut-Chocolat and the concept of Travel the World Through Chocolate. Chocolate became a medium to tell the story of the places she'd been and the people she'd met--all communicated through a mix of spices, herbs, and flowers. Sweet Indian curry and coconut milk chocolate candy bars. Truffles with Tibetan goji berries and pink Himalayan salt. Naga Mango Bombalinas (dark chocolate-covered mango pieces with sweet curry).
Like the confections Katrina creates, every Vosges boutique (there are six nationwide) has a distinct take on chocolate. Coined "purple houses," the shops are a larger-than-life chocolate-lover's paradise in full-on purple. Thought is put into every detail.
In the Lincoln Park shop, arches are a nod to Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. A long wood table crowned with a wishing tree beckons to guests enjoying Scotch and caramel pairings or pandan (screw-pine-flavored) ice cream. Indonesian puppets and marble Shivas line shelves.
While the interiors may be as interesting as the sweets she sells, in the end it all comes down to Katrina's exotic take on chocolate.
"The culture of Vosges is about exploring other cultures through food," says Katrina. "But it's also about finding balance--peace, love, and chocolate!"
Recipes begin here.